Experienced Buckeyes Ready To Get Started

For the past two years, following the Ohio State men's basketball team during the early part of the season has required heavy reliance on a roster in order to keep track of all the new faces. That will not be a problem this year as the Buckeyes get ready to tip off the season with an experienced roster.

Things looked decidedly different this year at Ohio State's men's basketball media day.

Due to a policy of not letting freshman speak to the media until after their first game in uniform, the past two years have largely consisted of asking returning veterans to talk about the newcomers who are shooting hoops and playing around at the other side of the team's practice gym.

This year, however, the five tables spread out along one wall of the gym were at full capacity as 11 scholarship players along with head coach Thad Matta discussed the 2009-10 squad one day before practice begins.

By all accounts, the fact that the roster boasts no freshmen should bode well for the team's success this season.

"It's a unique feeling," Matta said. "You don't have that unknown factor of, ‘What are guys going to be able to do?' That's exciting in my mind. We've got a pretty good base already for where we want to go and the starting point. As I've told these guys, we don't want to start over. We want to continue moving forward."

The base is there to do so. The only player missing from last year's roster is B.J. Mullens, who earned the Big Ten's sixth man of the year award but left for the NBA.

Although practice does not officially start until Friday night, the Buckeyes had 10 days' worth of practice before undergoing an exhibition trip to Canada during the summer. During those 10 days, junior Evan Turner said he noticed some different pep in Matta's step.

"He's always been about moving onto the next thing and he's starting to pick up his pace because it's a veteran team," the first-team all-Big Ten swingman said. "Before we know it we're moving onto the next thing and picking up intensity and not moving back."

Forgoing the opportunity to jump to the league, William Buford and Turner are both back in uniform. That duo, along with honorable mention all-Big Ten guard Jon Diebler and a now fully healthy David Lighty help give the Buckeyes a foursome that ranks among the best in the country.

In all, OSU welcomes back 86.8 percent of its scoring from a year ago. Last year, that total was at 37.2 percent – a total that was an even 10.0 points higher than it was the season prior.

"I guess you could say we hold ourselves to a different standard now since everyone is coming back," Lighty said. "Hopefully we can come out and just get better every day."

The one constant through it has been Lighty. A freshman on the 2006-07 team that advanced to the national championship game, he is the only player to set foot on the court that season still on the roster.

The junior missed all but seven games last year with a fractured right foot and said he is excited to rejoin the lineup.

"It's the first time that I've come back with the team from the previous year," he said. "I think it's something that is new to pretty much all of us, but that's a good thing. We pretty much know what to expect out of each other and we know our roles on the team."

The hope is that the team's overall experience will help it emerge as one of the elite teams in what figures to be a tough Big Ten conference this season. Last year, the Buckeyes advanced to the NCAA Tournament after a one-year absence but went 4-4 in games against conference teams that were decided by five points or less.

In addition, the Buckeyes led a lead that stretched as high as 12 points evaporate in a double-overtime upset loss to Siena in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

This year's team can no longer play the youth card.

"I think the games that we lost in crunch time, I think we're expected to know how to pull ourselves out and win those games," Turner said. "Coming into tough situations, I think we'll know how to play harder and go harder and not break in crunch time."

Before they get to that point, however, they have to get through practice. Matta described this time of the year as his personal favorite.

"I think it's for a coach, it's probably the most exciting time of the year," he said. "I think the fact of having these guys back in the mix, for me, I enjoy the bringing a team together and trying to get them to function as one."


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